My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Anne Clinard Barnhill, author of At the Mercy of the Queen: a Novel of Anne Boleyn. Barnhill has been writing professionally for almost twenty-five years, publishing articles and short stories in various magazines and anthologies. Her new novel, Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter, will be released by St. Martin’s Press in March 2014. The author of three other books and a poetry chapbook, she enjoys writing in a variety of genres. She also loves to tickle the ivories, play bridge and most especially, assume her role as the superhero Bottom Woman, a game she plays with her 6-year-old grandson. Visit her website, and track her down on Twitter and Facebook.
My First Agent
Thus far, in my writing career, I’ve had two agents. My current agent has been with me since late 2009. But the first one—ah, I’ll never forget the thrill of that phone call.
I was in the hospital, hooked up to a morphine drip, after having suffered an attack of pancreatitis caused by gall stones. To say I was a bit woozy is an understatement. My husband had come to visit and had told me this woman had called our home. He’d given her the hospital number and had returned to the hospital himself before she called.
When the phone rang, he answered, winking at me as he handed me the receiver.
“I love your book!” she said.
“Thhahhhk yooou,” I said.
“I’d really love to represent you—will you sign with me?” she said.
“Yes, yes I will mahrryy yooou,” I said, thinking I was the most clever writer ever for that remark.
She didn’t respond to my comment, but I'll never forget her last words to me: “I’m going to make you famous!”
This was in April.
By August, I had not heard a word. I should have known this did not bode well. But I was an innocent in the ways of the publishing world and ever optimistic.
Finally, in desperation, I called her. She told me she was having a hard time selling the book, but not to worry—she was still waiting for a few responses.
December rolled around, not a word yet from the agent. About a week before Christmas, I watched as the UPS truck backed down our long driveway.
Oh goody! I thought. Someone is sending me a Christmas present!
I opened the box eagerly. On top, were fifteen rejection letters in all their glory. And, number 16 was a letter from my agent, saying she was dropping me. She hadn’t sold the book and she didn’t like the second novel, so…
Merry damn Christmas.
I crawled to the kitchen and curled up in a tight little ball. I cried, oh, maybe three hours. It was a devastating blow, to say the least. And then, I did something very silly. I put my manuscript away. I thought surely it must be no good.
WRONG!—At least, wrong thinking. What I should have thought was, well, I got one agent, I can send this bad boy off and surely get another. Instead, I put the book away and I have not touched it since. Its moment had passed and I no longer had interest in it.
But I learned something important. When you get a nibble, you keep fishing. If one slips off the hook, you bait it again and recast. You don’t quit. You don’t allow rejection to stop you. You keep on keeping on.
Not a bad Christmas gift, when you think about it.